William Penn Foundation: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: The William Penn Foundation supports the protection and restoration of the Delaware watershed, which is where the Philadelphia metro area lies.

IP TAKE: The Penn Foundation only funds organization in the Greater Philadelphia region or organizations whose projects benefit Philadelphia. Its grantmaking supports scientific research, policy development, restoration projects, and advocacy efforts to mobilize the public. 

PROFILE: The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, dedicates itself to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region. The foundation is on a mission to "help improve education for low-income children, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creative communities that enhance civic life and advance philanthropy in the Greater Philadelphia region." The foundation's endowment is about $2 billion, and it makes about $80 million in grants annually through its three main programs: Great Learning, Watershed Protection and Creative Communities.

William Penn's Watershed Protection program's work to protect the Delaware River watershed seeks to "ensure an adequate supply of clean water for generations to come, and our support helps accelerate conservation of this precious resource." Indeed, the Delaware River is the longest un-dammed river east of the Mississippi, with a watershed that is home to 15 million people, or 5% of the U.S. population. In addition, the river reflects one of the largest expanses of natural lands that both protect clean water and provide habitat in the entire Western Hemisphere. As a result, the foundation dedicates three strategies to addressing watershed: Watershed-Wide, Sub-Watersheds, and Constituency Building. It considers projects that support or create:

  • Research, baseline mapping, and data analysis that will be made publicly accessible and can be inform programs and policy options used to advance targeted research and advocacy.
  • Research on and analysis of innovative policies and practices with the potential to significantly affect water quality.
  • Science- and data-driven monitoring programs.
  • Science- and data-driven public and policymaker education efforts about campaigns, including targeted advocacy for effective federal, state, and regional policies and practices that promote protection or restoration of watershed resources.

The foundation strictly prohibits its funds from being used for "lobbying at the Federal, state, or local level." Past grantees include the Manomet Center’s Shorebird Recovery Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy. In effect, the foundation prioritizes large and established organizations; however, it also funds a number of smaller environmental groups engaged in innovative projects designed to save the watershed. To view its past grantees, explore here.

William Penn is one of the more accessible conservation grantmakers. It welcomes grantseekers to submit a letter of inquiry through the foundation's website. Letters of inquiry are accepted throughout the year. Grantseekers should thoroughly study the foundation's application process.

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